LEWISTON — Retired postal worker Joe Whelan is possessed by the novels of Stephen King. He has four bookcases filled with the horror master’s handiwork.
“I saw him when he came to Lewiston in the 1980s and signed autographs at an old movie theater, and then when he spoke at Bates College around the time of 'Christine,'” Whelan said of King’s story of dark forces and a vintage car.
While he likes "Christine," his favorite book is "Salem’s Lot," about vampires. “It was local: Everything took place in Lewiston, Auburn and Lisbon. The thing that scared me most was at the end of the book, they didn’t get them all. I think maybe some are still lurking around the Twin Cities.”
These days, Whelan quips that some of his own resident “evil” may come from his King addiction. Ten years ago, Whelan and his wife, Donna, enlisted the help of close friends and empty-nesters Phil and Nancy St. Pierre and Dan and Nancy Boilard to create their first haunted house in one bay of their two-bay garage. Since then, it has become a tradition for the couples to brainstorm their next concept at an annual autumn Bar Harbor weekend. With themes ranging from vampires to zombies, Satan to ghosts, and replete with graveyards, spiders, a fog machine and floating heads, Whelan and company admittedly dig deep into the recesses of their slightly skewed imaginations to create each year’s house of horrors, which now commandeers the entire 26-by-30-foot structure.
“Dan got a lot of laughs at work one year because he had to get home early to build the coffin,” Whelan said. In other years, a body and dismembered head — Dan was the body, Phil was the head — was created with the strategic use of black and white clothing and a black light. Prosthetic bloody zombie eyes and half-buried skeletons in shredded shirts commonly dot the Whelans’ lurid landscape, with wife Donna tempering the scene for the tenderhearted each year as the good witch. “She spent her career teaching third grade, so she is always the gentle one I guess,” Whelan said.
Anticipating 100 visitors each Halloween night, the Whelans, St. Pierres and Boilards cap the evening with a hearty home-cooked meal for themselves of lasagna (it looks bloody, Whelan said), "turd soup" (biscuit dough soaked in beef broth for color, floating in chicken consomme) and Jell-O nestled into molds that resemble the human brain and heart, along with cookie “thumbs” for dessert. “It’s fun putting it up and less fun taking it down,” Whelan said, with disassembly taking place later the same night. On Nov. 1, he can be found scouring stores for Halloween markdowns in anticipation of next year’s hair-raising event.
“One year we had a huge spider web with a giant spider, and one of us was wrapped in its legs like the spider had cocooned him, yelling for help,” he said. “Let me out! Let me out! I only came for candy!”
Animatronics 'R Us
In Livermore, Merry Tracy-St. Pierre, husband Jeff St. Pierre, and daughters Ladesta and Lorayanna put up their monstrous Halloween display the first weekend in October. Corralling six or eight friends for the task, it takes eight days of work to erect their phantasmal paean to the holiday. Animatronics — each costing $200 to $300 — include an eight-foot grim reaper, a John Doe morgue cadaver who frequently sits up on his autopsy table, a face ripper who does as the name suggests, a flesh-eating zombie and a full-sized Jason Voorhees from "Friday the 13th" that lights up and moves. And they are all illuminated by “thousands upon thousands” of string lights.
“We have a Cursed Corner Cemetery with between 70 and 80 tombstones,” Tracy-St. Pierre said, affirming Halloween is her favorite holiday because she gets to act like somebody else. “You have to face your fears, like spiders, goblins, blood, guts and death,” she said in a philosophical take on the holiday, conceding she has a real phobia when it comes to spiders. “Dealing with our 12-foot-wide blow-up spider really helps me.”
They have invested about $10,000 over eight years to create or buy hundreds of objects from discount and big-box stores, catalogues, yard sales and the Internet, with ideas garnered from Martha Stewart Living, Oriental Trading Co., Good Housekeeping and more. In storage, the display occupies the full third bay of the family’s garage.
Front and back yard horrors are connected by a haunted house through which all must pass, and their indoors provides no escape from the spectacle, with five rooms dedicated to chills and cadavers. All manner of visitors, including local day cares (“some kids handle it better than others,” Tracy-St. Pierre said) and even a couple from England have come to experience the fright for themselves.
Jeff even built an eight-foot addition to the porch just to shelter an expanding animatronics display from inclement weather. “We go through 100 batteries each season," Tracy-St.Pierre said, adding it takes about 45 minutes to turn everything on each night. Their electric bill doubles for the month of October.
“There’s a (headless) horse-drawn carriage I’ve been wanting for the last couple of years,” she said, “but I just can’t justify the $500.”
Fright night feast
At their Crossbones Inn on Witches Way (inside their home), Lisbon Falls denizens Jane and Paul Craig post menus on the walls. Serving up cauldron cakes, apple or fried spiders, spicy bat wings and liquid phantom juice, among other demonic delicacies, the Craigs dress up like a witch and vampire, also directing people to a garden shed that’s become a witch’s house and through the spooky graveyard in their back yard.
“It’s decorated with tombstones and body parts, lighted and not, and things swinging from trees,” Jane Craig said. A skeleton in an antique high chair is particularly chilling.
She anticipates visits from their grown children, eight grandchildren, friends with grandchildren and many others. “We give out hot dogs and cider, and have generations here — 300 people visited us last year.”
While Craig is retired, her husband works full time for Central Maine Power and has put in for a day off just to decorate. “I think we’re a little off,” she said, “but Halloween is fun for kids and really fun for me.”
Stilts, screams and strobe lights
With their Halloween decorating often commencing the last week in September, Paul and Diane Kimball of Lewiston take Halloween to brand new heights.
Dressed as an eight-foot-tall furry beast in a costume created by his wife and grown daughter, Sherry, Paul spends about five hours on stilts every Halloween night in a tradition that evolved over 10 years at their School Street home. In fact, one year the costume won $500 in a contest at a local bar.
“It started when I’d just take the night off from work, dress up and give out candy,” Diane Kimball said, adding that when her granddaughter started getting older, daughter Sherry suggested everyone dress up. They added the requisite pumpkins and bale of hay. Over time a cemetery ensued, and then a pseudo-wrought iron fence, blow-ups, lights in trees, scary beings spotlighted in windows, strobe lights, fog machines and music, with son Kevin Ouellette volunteering for the display’s creepy construction crew. Last year 600 faithful visited the Kimballs’ Halloween haunt — the plastic “brick” facade that envelopes their home completing the macabre castle motif.
“When I see something awesome, I buy it,” said Kimball, who retired after 20 years as a coil operator at Elmet Technologies where her husband still works. “The street is loaded with kids and parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles,” she added, and a very special autistic child who dances each year with one of the animated props. “Every year it gets bigger, because they’re on their cell phones calling their friends.”
Hot dogs and headstones
With daughter Molly born on Halloween, and honoring the neighbors that started it all for her as a child back in Reading, Mass., Christine Nicholson turns her Lisbon Falls front yard into a RIP-roaring ghoul fest.
Famous for handing out hot dogs — at least 432 when they ran out on Halloween 2010 — Nicholson and husband, Daniel, host 400 to 500 visitors at their annual Halloween haunt. It features a giant bird cage brimming with shrunken skulls, a casket with white cross, hoards of black crows, a six-foot skeleton with rats traversing its pelvis, ghosts suspended from a clothesline and a dozen headstones with snappy sayings, courtesy of close friend Stan Craig.
Craig is particularly proud of one. “Here lies Sandra Jean, more than just a little mean,” he recited, poking some good-natured fun at his wife, Sandy.
“We usually start the week before the holiday,” Nicholson said, recalling growing up in Massachusetts where her neighbors across the street, the Fennellys, started the hot dog tradition. “We’d go over, grab a handful of hot dogs, go home and dress up, and my father would take us out trick-or-treating. Mrs. Fennelly is in her 80s and still does this.”
Purchasing a home in Lisbon Falls seven years ago, the Nicholsons had a couple of friends over to set up and give out 100 hot dogs. They are now up to 15 helpers and anticipate at least 500 hot dogs at the event this year, handed out beneath a “slaughtered hogs” sign. They also give out piles of candy, and the local police that come by to monitor from time to time also get a complimentary bottle of water for the long night ahead.
Working as a lunch lady at Lisbon High School, Nicholson’s notoriety is widespread as many of the students visit the tricked- and treated-out yard. “We’ve been very lucky — nothing stolen or vandalized,” she said.
“If they do anything, they know they won’t get hot dogs next year,” Craig quipped.
Explaining that for her, Halloween is tantamount to Christmas, Nicholson said people come from all over to see their display. “Our vision some day is to have a tent,” she said of their creepy celebration, which just gets bigger every year.